A bucket full of carrots

Q: What do you do with a bucketful of the last gasp, last season crop of carrots?

A: Cook em.

Q: What do you do with a bucketful of last gasp etc. misshapen carrots?

A: Scrub em and cook em.

Q: What do you do with the aforementioned when you’re feeling fed-up?

A: Make stock!

So that’s half the carrots gone, and there’s 1/2 gallon of lentil soup, 1litre of super concentrated chicken stock and three meals worth of casserole in the freezer. Doubtless Madame will compete with her carrot soup, and one way and another we’ll eat them all up.  There is something very special about your own veg – honestly they taste so much better and you know exactly what went into their production, so there’s no worrying about pesticides and insecticides. I’m not taking a cheap shot at farmers, goodness knows they’ve plenty to worry about and if there’s a vegetable we need but can’t grow I’d buy it (preferably organically grown) without hesitation, this is an allotment not a religious institution.

One great failure in the kitchen, however, was the last batch of sauerkraut.  It was doing fine in its tall fermenting jar, but that was too tall to get into the fridge while we went away so I split the batch into two jars but left the pressure valves open, and then kept them in the fridge.  I knew (don’t you always?) that the brine level was too low and so inevitably the fermenting sauerkraut was exposed and dried out. Then it went genuinely mouldy and when I opened the jars the dreadful smell of dead sheep filled the kitchen. It was all laid to rest in a double sealed bag and – as people always say when they’ve screwed up – “lessons will be learned”. No, really they will. So sauerkraut and the Mark 5 watering device joined each other in the bin.

Good news, however, from the hot bed.  We sowed the same salad veg in the unheated greenhouse a week in advance of sowing them in the hotbed. Nonetheless, the hotbed plants are now twice the size of the greenhouse sown. It’s not that the hotbed is dramatically hot – it chugs along at 12-15C but of course the temperature remains the same, day and night. The early crops of broad beans and peas are looking well, and the cordon apples in their second season are also coming to life along with the asparagus. It’s all very exciting but with so many perennials in their first fruiting season we’ll need to hold back and give them every chance to get their roots down.

The bad news is that the slugs have woken up too and so we’ll need to take up the cudgels again.  Most gardeners will be aware that metaldehyde slug pellets are being withdrawn from the market and so if it’s pellets you want, they’ll have to be ferrous phosphate about which there are still some worries. We’ve found that beer traps are brilliant as long as you tend them regularly, emptying and refilling them with fresh beer.  They’re not cheap but used properly they’re killing machines.

But stock? It’s so healing to make, and the closest thing you can get to pixie dust in the kitchen. I could make the recipe available freely in the certainty that I’ve been making it for so many years no-one else could quite replicate it. All our three sons have cooked ragu to my recipe and yet it never quite tastes the same. There’s no mystery there, I’m sure, but just the thousand and one tiny decisions and adjustments that happen unconsciously when you’re cooking a dish that’s evolved over decades. Sadly though the oven door is broken and I’m waiting for a phone call from an engineer with the bad news about the cost of repairing it.

First pickings of 2019!

Of course it’s cheating because these are the winter pickings of last season’s sowings, but it was nice to be able to take these off on the first day of the new year.  We took the last of the beetroot partly because I was reconfiguring the patch it was growing in as a raised bed this morning, but also because the weather forecast is predicting some severe weather with temperatures some way below freezing. There’s even some suggestion that this winter might exceed last winter in severity, so we dug these and they’re cooked already.

The other green vegetable aside from the savoys which are doing well this year is the cima di rapa – turnip tops with a college education. We read about them in the late summer and sowed a few just to see what they were like.  The leaves, eaten raw,  are quite mild with just a hint of horseradish like heat.  They’re most often used in a pasta dish and are apparently much liked in Italy but sadly Anna del Conte, one of my favourite writers says she doesn’t like them at all.  Still, we mustn’t be slaves to fashion. It’s rermarkable that they’ve grown steadily through the diminishing days and are just coming into flower. Once they’ve done that they don’t last long before breaking into flower.

The other main job of the day was covering any growing crops with fleece to stop them from checking when the temperature goes down to -3 or -4C.

Compost experiment – phase 1

I know that the first rule of successful experiments is to reduce the number of variables, but I think this one scrapes in as phase one of a longer term test of two canonical chunks of gardening wisdom. the two statements are:

  1. You must never plant carrots into newly manured ground because they will fork.
  2. You must always prepare the ground deeply to get long roots – so we’re testing Charles Dowding’s ‘no-dig’ method.

There’s a third subsidiary aim which is to test the claims made on behalf of ‘Early Nantes Frubund’ carrots that they can be sown successfully in August and September . Will they give an early crop? We shall see. Continue reading “Compost experiment – phase 1”